Time Warp

(or Why I Hate the Buzzer)

I hate the therapy buzzer.  There, I said it.

Nothing quite says “time’s up” like the disruptive sound of a buzzer.  Wrap it up, move along, the next person is waiting.

My therapist is terrible at keeping time.  This is kind of a liability for a therapist.

I noticed the absence of any clock in her office the first time we met.  Most therapists seem to have at least two – one for them, one for you.

I asked her about this: “Are you the keeper of the time?”  To which she replied, “I am the Time Keeper!”

Frankly, I’m relieved that there is no clock in sight.  It takes the pressure off.

However, I don’t think she answered the question fairly.  It is her job to keep track of time, but she’s so bad at it, she really could use some help.

Time seems to be such a part of the therapy frame.  45 minutes.  Not a minute more or less. It’s the part of the frame that I most struggle with, the part that I rail against the most.

Since my therapist is not good with time, she relies heavily on the buzzer to orient her during session.  She shares a suite of offices and there is no receptionist.  You have to ring the buzzer outside to be let in to the waiting room.  This is also the signal that the next client has arrived and is waiting.

Oh how I hate that buzzer.

Okay, there have been a few times when I sat there praying for the buzzer: “Please dear God let the next person come so I can be put out of my misery.”

However, there really should be a buzzer etiquette policy posted.  It would read something like this:

  • Early buzzing is strictly prohibited.  You may only buzz 5 minutes before your session.  If you are earlier than 5 minutes, take a seat on the step and wait until it’s 5 minutes before your scheduled session.
  • If you buzz less than 5 minutes prior to your session, expect that your session will be delayed.  Sessions will begin no sooner than 5 minutes after you buzz.  Try to buzz at exactly 5 minutes.  It helps everyone.
  • We heard your buzzer.  No need to buzz a second time to remind us that you are still there and we’ve gone over.  We are wrapping up.  Better yet, factor this into your schedule.  We recommend planning for a 5-10 minute delay at the start of a session and a 5-15 minute overage at the end.  So if you have an appointment at noon, don’t plan to be out of here before 1:00 (make that 1:15 if you really have somewhere to be afterwards).  This helps everyone manage time expectations, and if we do wrap on time at 12:45, you just found an extra 30 minutes in your day!

Something like that would be most helpful, I think.

Therapy time is often deceiving.  I can get very disoriented when we stop and I look at my watch and see the actual time.  Sometimes 45 minutes feels like only 30.  Sometimes it feels like an hour or more.  Sometimes an hour feels like 45.

Sometimes it feels like only 35, because well it was only 35.

Maybe part of the issue is that I rarely have a 45 minute session.

And when we do go just the allotted 45, it feels too short, like I’ve been shortchanged.  I get so angry when I get cut short, even by a few minutes, even though on many occasions we’ve gone over, sometimes way way over.

Sometimes there’s the rare session that comes to an end without a buzzer.  That can be jarring too.  Why do I have to leave if no one is waiting? (Never mind that the next person may be a phone or Skype session or that my therapist may have things to do or need a break…)

I try to think of it as a credit system, where I deposit all of the extra, overtime minutes, so that if we run short, I can just subtract those minutes from the surplus.

But that logic doesn’t seem to really work.  It should, but it doesn’t.  It’s hard not to take it personally, even though I know it’s not personal.  I don’t get more time because I’m being a good client or being particularly entertaining that day.  I don’t get less time because I’m not talking or am being disappointing.  I know, in my brain, that it’s a combination of time and energy available on both sides.  But it doesn’t always feel that way (oh those damn irrational feelings).

My last therapist had no problem with time.  He didn’t have a receptionist either, but there was a lock on the suite door and you just let yourself in with the right combination.  I never knew how he knew if, or when, the next person arrived.

Maybe it didn’t matter because you only got 45 minutes, and not a minute less or a minute more.

Sometimes a client would leave his office, and I’d be sitting in the waiting room, and he’d close the office door and reopen it at the exact start time of my appointment.  I never understood why he did this and it always kind of bothered me.  Would it be so bad to start a few minutes early?

I’m not sure I preferred his approach, even if it was more predictable.

Perhaps it’s just hard to go, no matter how much time has passed.

Therapy is such a strange parallel universe to step into, and then have to step out of less than an hour later.  I find the transition back to the real world hard.  Sometimes I just have to hang out because I’m not ready to face the real world again.

Does she know that I’m still there, sitting on the other side of the door?  Wishing to be back in there instead of out here?  Does she feel me leave when I finally do go?

Some days, so much comes out.  And has to be put back again, sealed up until next time.

Other days, I don’t let much come out because I don’t want to, or know it will be too hard, to put it back.  So I don’t take it out to begin with.

My therapist once suggested that I think of us being tethered together during the time we are apart, as a way to visualize the connection between us.  This image always makes me laugh, as I think about taking my end of the line out the door, down the elevator, into the subway, under tunnels, over bridges, across streets, through intersections… It would be a mess of criss-crossed lines getting tighter and more strained the further we moved apart.  And then, when she finally leaves the office, the line starts to relax as she makes her own journey home, and the distance between us isn’t as great.  And this dance continues in the days we are apart, a constant pulling away and together, until finally we end up back in the same room again.

I do like the idea of being able to tug on my end of the line, knowing that she can feel it, and that she could tug back.  I wish this connection was easier to feel without having to drag a piece of string all over creation.

My therapist calls this object permanence, or really a lack thereof.

Shrinky term:

ob·ject per·ma·nence (noun, äbjəkt pərmənəns) – the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be observed (seen, heard, touched, smelled or sensed in any way).

Somewhere along the way, my sense of object permanence was disrupted.  I know in my head that the person will still be there.  But my heart isn’t convinced.

This can create some rather tricky situations and gets in the way of things like trust and connection and intimacy.

We spend a lot of time in therapy talking about this, devising strategies to overpower or workaround or simply live with this deficit.  You know, until the buzzer goes…

(Confession: if I leave a session in a really bad mood, and especially if there has been bad buzzer etiquette, I’ll ring the buzzer on the way out.  A parting gift of sorts.  It’s true and I’m not proud of it, but sometimes it makes me feel just a little bit better.)

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